The east central Georgia city of Millen, the Jenkins County seat, serves as the switching station for hundreds of Norfolk Southern Railway trains moving from Atlanta to Savannah to Augusta and beyond. This small-town switchyard is where train cars are stored, loaded, and switched to different tracks. Millen serves as an important link in Georgia’s freight and logistics network, seeing growing cargo loads resulting in an increasing number of train cars.
Due to the influx of longer trains, some of which can total up to three miles in length, three railroad crossings may be in simultaneous use within the city limits. This can last for several hours due to train logistics. Local traffic and large trucks are impeded, creating a traffic efficiency and safety concern due to congestion and backups.
“In the last 12 months, the railroad has probably doubled and even tripled its freight,” Millen Mayor King Rocker said. “Trains will come in and block (all three) crossings leaving only a city street overpass to get from one side of town to the other. Those roads weren’t designed to carry that load at 80,000 or 90,000 pounds.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Norfolk Southern and city officials organized a remedy to mitigate the Millen gridlock.
GDOT will fund and install Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) equipment at seven locations as advanced warning for all drivers to adjust travel accordingly while crossings are closed. This ITS equipment incorporates changeable message signs and detection cameras to better alert drivers.
Site locations include:
• SR 17/Masonic Street at Recreation Drive
• US 25/Statesboro Road at SR 17/67/Winthrope Avenue
• US 25 at the SR 21 Bypass
• Winthrope Avenue at the SR 21 Bypass
GDOT district offices regularly field requests to review operations at intersections, pedestrian and bicycle safety concerns, speed zones, maintenance issues and a host of other concerns. GDOT District Engineer Corbett Reynolds said sometimes it’s a simple solution but certain scenarios like the Millen rail crossings are more challenging.
“In this case, we knew that a preemption device could help the situation, so we leaned on the expertise of our State Traffic Operations office to develop an ITS plan,” Reynolds said.
Norfolk Southern Public Safety Director William Miller is “thankful for GDOT’s leadership and creative thinking for solutions to help relieve the congestion” in the city of Millen.
The Department anticipates equipment installation to begin this month at the SR 17 southern location with other work happening this summer.
“If people know where to go before they get stuck by a train, I think that will be a big asset and reduce these issues,” Rocker said. “GDOT stepped up to get us immediate help. We are thankful for that.”